Dogs, Cows and Kids …

In every company, product managers have more things to do than you have time for. So how do you decide which products to fund? which projects to work on? and more importantly what NOT to work on? After all, if you have more things to do than you have time for, there is nothing worse than working on the wrong stuff. Marty Cagan of Silicon Valley Product Group says – “….lose your dogs and milk your cows, and you should have significantly more resources with which to feed your kids.”

Marty in his latest blog post “Dogs, cows and kids” talks about how to identify what to ride to the sunset, what to milk and what to focus energy on. It is a great read.

Secrets of success in 8 words and 3 minutes

Wondering about how to be successful – watch this video by Richard St. John delivered at Ted 2007.

Need a head and a date

As product managers, we have to work with a lot of departments – engineering, qa, order admin, finance, shipping etc as part of creating the product and then putting that product into the market.

Doing all of this, involves choreographing and managing a lot of activities, so that the final dance that results meets the customer expectations.

Here is a common answer I get when I ask people to commit to a date when a task assigned to them will be completed by them – “I am not sure, I have a lot on my plate”. Great, you think I don’t have anything else to do?

Don’t accept this answer but counter it with the following – “OK, I understand you are very busy and you may need to get more information before you can commit to a completion date. But can you give me  a date when you will get back to me with a firm completion date?” This way, you are asking them to commit to a date to a date. To this, people will usually give you an answer.

Then when you end the meeting minutes, assign the action item to the person to get back to you with a completion date. Hold them accountable to the entire team and not just to you. Yes, unexpected things will come up, they always do, but you cannot run a business without a head and a date for each task.

Google Chrome vs. Cuil – Product Management Case Studies?

By now, many of you are well aware of two new products that came out this summer (and if you have not, you were probably enjoying the summer a lot more than I was) – a new browser from Google called Google Chrome and a new search engine from a startup called Cuil

I was excited by both of these products and decided to try both of them. I had trouble getting to the Chrome download server but I waited patiently to get to it the next day. I found both the products to be buggy and gave up on Cuil and have never been back to it even once. I found Google Chrome to be buggy as well and uninstalled it because it did not work with my anti-virus software. So the initial product usage experience was the same, but there is one big difference.

I have talked positively about Google Chrome to a lot of people and given it glowing reviews – I have told them it was buggy, how I had to uninstall it and how I expect that these issues will be fixed. I have not talked to as many people about Cuil and to those who I have talked to, I have ridiculed it. I talked about what a joke it was and why I even needed another search engine when Google works so well.

So why am I spreading the positive word about Google Chrome though my first taste of it left lot to be desired? Interesting, isn’t it. Here is my analysis.

What is wrong with Cuil?

Very simple. It does not solve a problem I have. OK, you could say that you index more pages than Google but to me as a user, anything past 20-30 search results is Siberia. So the only yardstick is “Are the first 20-30 results better than what I get on Google” – No. So why do I care. So where is the product differentiation? No reason to switch from the incumbent vendor I use.

What is right with Google Chrome?

  1. Yes, the product is buggy (and aptly called Beta), but I buy into their vision. They have designed the web browser from the groundup to support web apps – at least that is what they claim. I buy into this vision. It does not solve my browsing problems today, but I know web apps are the future. So they are ahead of the game – they are looking out into the future for me.
  2. They released it in a very novel way – using the comic book concept. Very novel, again out of the box thinking.
  3. A company I respect tremendously for past innovations and I use their innovative tools everyday. If they have not got it right yet, I have the confidence that they will. Read “incumbent/entrenched vendors are always at an advantage”.
  4. When I had the issue with anti-virus software, they already knew about it and said on the forums that they were working on a solution – they were listening – they are on top of their game.
  5. They made it open source – they contributed their code base to the software community – I already know about the success of Firefox – they did not beat their chests creating another proprietary product, they are letting everyone use their innovations.

Product Management Lessons:

  1. Solve a real problem customers have (or will have soon)
  2. Incumbent vendors have a big advantage – to make users switch to your product, it needs to absolutely rock. If you are just a “wannabe” or if your differentiation is some metric which no one cares about, users will not switch.
  3. Past vendor success generates respect. Once you gain that respect, you will get a longer leash from your users (same applies to product managers too).

Companies should not be “customer” focused

Yes, companies should not be “customer” focused first, I strongly challenge them to be “employee” focused instead and then the customer focus will come.

I have been a great proponent of being customer driven, listening to customer’s unmet needs and then creating products that serve those needs. But when it comes to focus for companies, I would be “employee” focused first. Why? Because if you hire the right employees, treat them right, give them the authority and responsibility to do the right thing for the customers, the customer focus will come automatically. The vice versa does not work.

The example I always use when I make this point is that of airlines. They all tout how they care about their customers and guess what – when I get on a plane I meet flight attendants who care less about the customers – why? they are not happy, they are probably worried about making their ends meet because their compensations are being squeezed by the airlines every time they get a chance – all in the name of cost cutting. So do I expect these employees to serve their customers very well so that the airlines can tout great customer service? These days they are even asked to bring their own food and drink on board. Imagine this – what would four to six extra lunch boxes and sodas/water cost to make sure that these flight attendants (whose primary job is to serve and ensure the safety of the passengers) stay hydrated and not hungry? All of this when I have not seen any major cuts in the airline executive compensations that makes these executives start worrying about how they will pay their bills. Who would you rather see motivated to turn the airline around – the executives or the flight attendants and the pilots in whose hands your life depends when you are flying?

Contrast that with companies such as Ritz and Nordstrom – do you think these companies have such high customer ratings by sheer luck – no – they focus on making sure they hire the right employees, develop them, make sure that they are well treated and empowered to make their customers happy. After all, hiring decisions better be the most important decisions you make in your company. Folks, It is all about relationships with people and not products.

How a great asset becomes your greatest liability

Thank you Manny Ramirez for the last 7 years – but Red Sox nation will be just fine without you. When you become more than the team, it is time for you to move on.  You were a great asset but there is a point a great asset becomes a liability – you crossed the line this year.

Our sports teams have shining examples of superstars (Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Kevin Garnett,  Paul Pierce, Ray Allen) who recognize the value of putting the team first and delivering the goods. You also had great teammates like David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, Kevin Millar who played their hearts out, but with you it was all about you. You were making more money that you could possibly spend in your lifetime, but all you could do is whine and cry like a baby!! I enjoyed all of your home runs like every other Red Sox fan did. But enough is enough, we will still love our Red Sox as much as we all do without you.

So have fun, pee in a cup behind the Dodgers score board, make cell phone calls while you are in the left field, party with Scott Boras, get more rich, report late into training camp, visit the car auction in NY, do whatever, we really don’t care – you are now Torre’s problem – now he can lose whatever hair he has left dealing with you.  We are quite happy here in Boston that the cancer in the clubhouse has been cured once and for all. We may not win it all this year, but the concept of the team and integrity of the game will survive.

Do slides for webinars need to be different?

Recently, I attended a webinar. The slides were full of text and the presenter read word by word – you very well know what I said – Text on a Powerpoint slide is your greatest competition. When I gave feedback about this to the presenter via email, the response from him indicated to me that he decided to put all the text on his slides because it was a webinar.

So this brings up the interesting question – do slides need to be different for a webinar than those used for live presentations? No, absolutely not in my opinion. To me a webinar is no different than a live presentation at a conference where there is an overflow room. Imagine that you are giving a talk at a conference that has drawn a large audience that will not fit in the original room reserved for your talk. So the organizers open up another room where the audience can hear you, can see your slides on a projection screen, but cannot see you. Would you change your presentation style and your slides because you cannot see the people in the overflow conference room? No. Webinars should be treated the same way.

In fact, I will argue that webinars require even more presentation skills because you want the audience to listen to you while they have a lot of distraction compared to when you are presenting live. So if all you are going to do is put text and then read off the slide, they will read the slides ahead of you as you flip them and not pay any attention to your message.

While I am on this topic – here is another common mistake I have seen many presenters make including this webinar presenter. I signed up for the webinar to get knowledge about a topic that was interesting to me. The presenter started with introduction about who he is, what his company does and what products they make – this is not what I wanted to hear right off the bat. I wanted to hear about the topic that I signed up for. Tell me that first, satiate my hunger for it and then give me the pitch about you, your company and your products. Towards the end, you have gained more permission from the attendees to tell them about you and they are more apt to listen because you educated them first. It is all about the audience, folks. Don’t put the cart before the horse!

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